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5 Signs Your Employee Is Outgrowing Their Role

Today, we want to look at how you tell if an employee is outgrowing their role and how you can either help them grow and develop into a new role at the business - or come up with a mutual solution.
Published 4 Sep 2022
Updated 17 Oct 2023
7min read

Everyone has a time in their life when they’re questioning whether or not they need a career change. From the Marketing Coordinator to a Senior Manager, the reality is that the majority of people who come through a company’s door will eventually end up leaving for one reason or another.

Even the companies with the highest retention rates will eventually lose some of their top players.

For many employees, one of the reasons they leave an organisation is because they’ve simply outgrown their role. This may be because growth is limited, promotions are scarce, and they feel like there’s nowhere for them to go.

Signs your employee has outgrown their role

But, how can you tell the difference between an employee who is just having a bad week or someone who has outgrown their role? Here are five signs that your employee is outgrowing their role and what you can do about it.

Please note: The following signs of role restlessness can also indicate challenges unrelated to work. A sudden drop in productivity and change in attitude can signal underlying personal circumstances. If you notice this shift in behaviour, it may be worth scheduling an informal one-on-one session to check in with the employee. If someone is struggling, it’s part of your role as a people manager to ensure they’re okay and provide support.

1. They’re less productive than usual

A lack of productivity is one of the most obvious signs that something isn’t quite right. If the work that your employee is doing becomes static or repetitive, they can only spend so long in that role before becoming unmotivated or restless and as a result, less productive.

On top of being less productive, one tell-tale sign that your employee is outgrowing their role, is that you may notice they’re missing deadlines more often, submitting subpar work and have little concern about either. Chronic boredom may be a reason that your employee is being less productive. Boredom can be a sign that they need something more to get them engaged during the working day.

If an employee is doing repetitive work that they feel like they can do with little effort or thought, or if they’re not being challenged, this can also be a common cause of them becoming less productive.

2. They no longer take initiative

You have an employee who always volunteers suggestions, takes risks, or initiates change within the company or their team. They’re one of your star players for coming up with innovative solutions. But recently, you’ve noticed that they’ve started to go through the motions of their to-do list, rather than coming up with any new ideas. Consider this an early red flag.

The reasons why employees no longer take initiative in their work can range from personal circumstances to a change of heart with their position, to an overall lack of motivation.

Showing up late, not meeting deadlines or appearing withdrawn or quieter than usual is a sign. Observing this behaviour and coming up with ways to pique their interest could benefit the situation earlier on, but it could just as well strain or aggravate it further if noticed too late.

3. They’re disengaged and disinterested

Just because someone is great at their job doesn’t mean they love what they do. Leaders often make the mistake of assuming that good performance means their employees are happy in their roles. While they’re not wrong to do so, they should always dig deeper to find out where each person’s passion truly lies.

If you’ve spoken to the employee about what their career goals are, then you can usually get a good idea as to how your company values line up with their interests and passions. Does their current position seem aligned with this?

Feelings of anger and frustration may be another surprising sign that an employee is outgrowing their role and is ready for a new challenge. The last thing you want is someone who is actively disengaged to start spreading toxicity around the workplace!

4. Their role has stagnated

When it comes to working, some roles are more agile and creative than others. However, if your employee is doing the bare minimum for the role, or their workload has drastically decreased, it could be a sign that they’ve outgrown their role.

With The Great Resignation on our doorstep, you should embrace the side-steppers and encourage your employees to speak up about where their passion is. If there’s a position in your organisation that makes them more motivated and engaged, it might be worth giving them the chance to grab the opportunity with both hands.

5. They’re not learning anything new

Feeling like you have no room to grow within a company can feel stifling. Especially to the professional goals that your employees they may have set out for themselves and their careers.

Motivation and inspiration are essential for keeping your team engaged in the workplace. You want to encourage your team to continue growing and learning, and the last thing you want is to feel like you’re forcing your team to learn. If they’re stuck in their ways or are reluctant to learn new skills, this is one red flag that you don’t want to miss.

How do you support employees who have outgrown their role?

Boredom is the biggest retention killer and retaining your top talent right now is critical for businesses. With mass turnover on the cards, there’s never been a more important time to stay on top of your retention strategies and keep your team engaged.

Companies that aren’t challenging their employees to take on more responsibility, leadership and skill sets, are going to be on the receiving end of resignation letters. Unfortunately, companies lose incredible talent because they simply can’t recognise that their employees have outgrown their role.

Here are some tips for taking notice – before it’s too late.

Talk to the employee

First and foremost, the most important step is to talk to your employee. You want to understand how they’re feeling. It could be that they’re in the midst of some personal issues and are unable to work to their full potential. They could be preoccupied with other priorities and unsure of how to get back on track.

In this instance, you should offer support and provide contact details for an employee assistance program (EAP) if you have one. This can help them work through any difficulties they’re having with a qualified professional.

Anonymous employee surveys are also a great way to get honest employee feedback from your employees.

Create a 3-6 month plan with your employee

If you are concerned that your employee might be outgrowing their role, now is a good time to go back to the drawing board. Create a professional development plan or start using objectives and key results (OKRs) and understand what makes them motivated.

A professional development plan (PDP) is a roadmap containing the skills, strategy, and education your team members need to further themselves in their careers and lives. This can help them achieve their professional goals by implementing structured steps and a clear pathway on how to get there.

Whether it’s a promotion, professional development, a new course or learning more technical skills, this plan can help regain lost motivation, inspire them and help get them back on track.

Looking for a professional development plan? We’ve got a template you can download here. 

Encourage employee growth

If an employee has expressed to you their interest in wanting to know ways they can move up within your company, it’s a good sign they’re enjoying the environment, as well as the company culture.

It’s your responsibility as the employer or manager to make sure you act on this request. If they become aware of the potential lack of opportunities, they may start looking elsewhere for companies that can offer more progression in their field of work.

Things can always change, but it’s never too late (or too early) for leaders to start planning for their team’s futures. If you want to cultivate a strong culture with high-performing employees, you must always stay one step ahead. Part of being a great leader is being a great coach.

What to do as a last resort?

You’ve now tried a variety of different routes to keep your employee engaged, showed them the different ways they can progress within their role and helped them map out exactly how to get there.

But unfortunately, this just wasn’t enough for this particular employee. They’re still showing signs of disengagement with your business, are unhappy in their role and have one foot out the door. This is always a hard pill to swallow for any business. However, it doesn’t have to be all bad.

Resignations are an important opportunity for any business to learn from. Make sure you reflect on what your business may have been doing wrong and how the company could do better next time you find out an employee might be outgrowing their role.

That’s why we’re such a big advocate of exit interviews and offboarding your employees in the right way. These processes give you insight into what really happened during the course of their tenure. It’s important to learn why talent stays and what makes them leave your company so you can learn and grow.

While there can be a plethora of reasons, there might be recurring factors that you can action as a business. In the end, sometimes it’s no one’s fault, it’s just time for a change.

Goodbyes are hard, but we’ll help you offboard with ease

When it comes time to say farewell, you want to ensure your offboarding procedures are as streamlined as possible. While it’s hard to say goodbye, you should ensure that all processes are checked off. By getting all of the paperwork out of the way, you’ll be able to give them a farewell they’ll remember for all of the right reasons.

Download our Ultimate Guide to Employee Offboarding here. 

If you want to learn more about employee retention, engagement and creating a company culture that your employees will love – download our whitepaper below.

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